MapMaker: Human Footprint

MapMaker: Human Footprint

Earth’s human footprint measures the relationship between the human consumption of resources and the number of resources the Earth can supply. Explore our planet and see what areas are most or least impacted.


9 - 12


Biology, Ecology, Conservation, Earth Science, Climatology, Geology, Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Physical Geography

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Humans need food, shelter, and water to survive. Our planet provides us the resources to help fulfill these needs and many more. But exactly how much of an impact are we making on our planet? And will we reach a point where Earth can no longer support our growing population?

Just like a bank account tracks money spent and earned, the relationship between human consumption of resources and the number of resources Earth can supply, our human footprint, can be measured. Our human footprint can be calculated for an individual, town, country, and quantifies the intensity of human pressures on the environment. The Human Footprint map layer aims to do this by deriving a value representing the magnitude of the human footprint per one square kilometer (0.39 square miles) for every biome.

This map layer was created by scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Columbia University’s Human Footprint project to highlight where human pressures are most extreme in hopes to reduce environmental damage. The human footprint map asks the question, where are the least influenced, most “wild” parts of the world?

The Human Footprint map was produced by combining nine global data layers that spatially visualize what is presumed to be the most prominent ways we influence the environment. These layers include human population pressure (population density), human land use and infrastructure (built-up areas, nighttime lights, land use/land cover), and human access (coastlines, roads, railroads, navigable rivers). Based on the amount of overlap between layers, each square kilometer value is scaled between one and 100 for each biome. Meaning that if an area in a Moist Tropical Forest biome scored a value of one, that square kilometer of land is part of the one percent least influenced/most wild area in its biome. Knowing this, we can help preserve the more wild areas in every biome, while also highlighting where to start mitigating human pressures in areas with high human footprints.

So how can you reduce your individual human footprint? Here are just a few ways:

  • Recycle: Recycling helps conserve resources, reduces water and air pollution, and helps save space in overcrowded landfills.
  • Use less water: The average American uses 310 liters (82 gallons) of water a day! Reduce your water consumption by taking shorter showers, turning off the water when brushing your teeth, avoiding pouring excess drinking water down the sink, and washing your fruits and veggies in a bowl of water rather than under the tap.
  • Reduce driving: When you can walk, bike, or bus instead of driving. Even three kilometers (two miles) in a car put about two pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. If you must drive, try to carpool with other people to reduce pollution. Lastly, skip the drive-thru! You pollute more when you sit in a line while your car is emitting pollutant gases.
  • Know how much you’re consuming: Most people are unaware of just how much they are consuming every day. Calculate your individual ecological footprint to see how you can reduce your consumption here.
  • Systemic implications: Individually, we are a rounding error. Take some time to understand how our individual actions can inform more systemic changes that may ultimately have a bigger impact on reducing humanity's overarching footprint.
Media Credits

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McClain Martensen
Expert Reviewer
Anita Palmer
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 22, 2024

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